[Sca-cooks] OOP: Process-Oriented, Modular New Year's Prep Blathering -- long

Phil Troy / G. Tacitus Adamantius adamantius1 at verizon.net
Sat Jan 24 21:12:07 PST 2009

Hullo, the list!

I'm warning you, this is going to bore the pants off of some of you,  
and hopefully most of you in that category won't waste your time with  
this, but on the chance some of you might actually be interested in  
the thought process (or, more often,the lack thereof), I thought I  
might post a partial prep schedule for the upcoming New Year's Thing.  
I post a menu every year, and sometimes I post recipes after the fact,  
but I rarely find myself with the leisure for sitting at the computer  
the night before New Year's Eve, talking about it, so either I'm doing  
something right or I'm making an enormous mistake ;-). Time will tell.  
It might pose, for those inexperienced in these things, an example of  
how not to be intimidated by big gobs of kitchen work, and getting a  
fair amount of work done in a shortish amount of time. Some of this  
may be applicable to other big kitchen projects of your own, some not;  
I'll leave it up to you guys to decide that.

Late last night, I set up the five-spice beef to braise, and the white- 
cooked five-flower pork (this is some Chinese person's phrase for  
poached pork belly; go figure). The beef is a boned-out piece of the  
shin, complete with tendon running along the center of the muscle --  
you know it's done when the tendon is transparent and soft enough to  
slice easily. I rolled and tied it, browned it in an iron Dutch oven  
in peanut oil (veg oil is fine) in which I had previously browned  
slices of ginger and shallot for flavoring the oil. When the beef was  
browned all over, I added a quart of The Eternal Cooking Soy (i.e.  
this same stuff leftover from last year, frozen) dark soy sauce  
(lots), water, a little sugar, a little rice wine, some dried  
tangerine peel, and three or four tablespoons of Five Spice powder  
(probably ground star anise, fennel, cloves, cinnamon, and ginger, but  
formulas vary and we're near the bottom of a pound bag whose label has  
long since vanished). This is all brought to a boil, covered, and  
either braised on top of the stove or in a low oven for several hours,  
until the meat is very tender and the sauce a dark, protein-ey syrup.

Meanwhile, the pork belly, in two large pieces, went into the stockpot  
with water to cover, a splash of sherry, several scallions and several  
slices of ginger. Brought this to a boil, skimmed, and let it barely  
simmer on the lowest of flames until the meat and rind were tender.  
They'll firm up when chilled, for slicing and stir-frying. Covered the  
pot, and after allowing enough time for the air under the cover to get  
good and hot, turned off the flame and the oven, and went to bed for a  
few hours.

In the morning, I retrieved first the beef, which had cooled in its  
sealed pot of five-spice-flavored soy sauce. I wrapped it in plastic  
wrap and packed it into a loaf pan to help hold it together and shape  
it while it chilled. This went into the fridge to be sliced and served  
cold (leftovers are also good reheated and served over noodles in a  
soup/stew made with the cooking soy).

If I were making soy-sauce chicken, I'd go right into that with the  
same soy sauce, suitably augmenting the seasonings, but we won't be  
doing that this year (we do expect to be getting some from one of the  
local restaurants that sell roast chickens, ducks, barbecued pork,  
etc.). So, the sauce was strained, skimmed, and put back in the  
freezer. It does improve with repeated cookings, and it's one of those  
things restaurants boast of, that they've been using the same soy  
sauce since 1921. In practice, I've never managed to keep a batch more  
than three years; either there's a power outage and I end up throwing  
it away (if it goes bad you can certainly detect a flavor change), or  
we use it as dumpling or noodle sauce. My usual compromise is to save  
a quart of the liquid in the freezer, and use whatever is left as an  
immediate condiment. Since it's so protein-rich, it'll gel rather  
firmly if chilled, so it may need to be reheated if using as a sauce.

Similarly, I retrieved the pork from its pot (gently; it's very tender  
at this point and could easily fall apart if handled roughly). The  
bones  and cartilage slip right out with a little coaxing from a sharp  
knife, allowing the meat, fat and rind to be pressed into a  
rectangular plastic takeout container. When chilled, it'll pop right  
out and slice nicely, to be fried with a sweet and spicy garlic glaze  
-- hence the term, Twice-Cooked. Strained and reserved the poaching  

Spent the rest of the day doing various exciting households chores,  
and to certain scoffers who wished to bet me that my health, stamina  
and flexibility were not up to the task of scrubbing multiple bathroom  
floors on my hands and knees, you can pay me after Monday. You know  
who you are.

This evening, I thawed about two-thirds of a four-pound box of frozen  
small tiger prawns under cold, running water. Basically it's a big  
block, you unwrap one end, put it over a colander, and run cold water  
over it until that end starts to thaw and you can remove those  
critters that have semi-thawed, leaving those you wish to remain  
frozen still attached to the other end of the block. Stop or continue  
until you have thawed the number of shrimp you want. Many commercially  
frozen shrimp come from cold water, and have enzymes and other  
digestive chemicals in their intestinal tracts that make them not  
respond very well to the more traditional "thaw in the fridge" method:  
they can acquire a mushy, creamy, fondant-like texture that's one of  
the worst surprises you can experience when you think you're about to  
bite into a shrimp. If you live in a place where you can get fresh  
Gulf shrimp from Louisiana or somewhere like that, it may be different.

In the mean time, I had previously purchased about four pounds of  
ground pork and, having nothing else to do with it at the time, stuck  
it, in its bag, into the freezer. That, I did have thawing in the  
fridge. It was partially, but not fully, thawed, which was all part of  
my fiendish plot.

I shelled and deveined the shrimp, which came out to a little under  
two and a half pounds, plus a few ounces of shells, which I reserved.  
The shrimp were rough-chopped and made into a filling, for dumplings,  
stuffed bean curd, mushroom caps, stuffed butterfly shrimp wrapped in  
bacon, whatever. My plan is to use some of this for either bacon- 
wrapped shrimp rolls or butterfly shrimp (more likely the former); to  
this end, I added to the chopped shrimp crushed garlic, salt, an egg  
white, a little rice wine, a little peanut oil, a teaspoon of  
cornstarch, some white pepper, some grated fresh ginger, some chopped  
scallion and a few chopped water chestnuts (canned; we may pick up  
some fresh ones tomorrow for the soup and the jai).

A little over half of this leaves the bowl and is wrapped up to be put  
into the coldest corner of the fridge; between the salt, the booze,  
and the cold, it'll be fine for a couple of days.  The remaining pound  
or so remains to become the shrimp component of the shrimp-and-pork  
stuffing for the stuffed black mushrooms. Two-thirds of the ground  
pork that has thawed (there's a frozen ball in the middle of the bag)  
goes into the bowl, along with more chopped scallion (I did them all  
at once, earlier), chopped water chestnuts, chopped salted radish  
(this is mostly a Toysan addition you don't often find in a lot of  
restaurants or mainstream Cantonese cooking in general), another  
teaspoon of cornstarch, more white pepper and ginger, salt, sherry  
this time instead of rice wine, another dash of peanut oil, and four  
or five chopped, soaked black mushrooms. This is all mixed into a  
cohesive stuffing mixture, wrapped and placed in the fridge for  
stuffing mushroom caps tomorrow afternoon.

[While making that stuffing, I've got a stock going with the shrimp  
shells, some black mushroom stems and soaking liquid, and the poaching  
liquid from the poached pork belly. Tomorrow it'll be added back to  
the stockpot along with a Smithfield ham bone from the freezer, and a  
soup chicken, to make the basis for Winter Melon Soup.]

In the same [washed] stuffing bowl, the remaining thawed ground pork  
(approximately a pound) is seasoned without vegetables, just a little  
garlic powder, grated ginger, white pepper, salt, cornstarch, sherry  
and oil. If you're from Hong Kong rather than the mainland, I'm told,  
you also add a pinch of sugar, which is very good, but which may cause  
purists not from Hong Kong to complain. I guess it's like using the  
wrong kind of corn meal, or adding sugar, or not, as the case may be,  
to your corn bread. Good, but the kind of sacrilege that can get you  
into trouble. I didn't bother this time. This seasoned pork mixture  
will go into the black bean sauce for either Lobster Cantonese or  
prawns with lobster sauce (so called because it's the sauce used for  
lobster Cantonese). We'll go out and look for decently-priced lobsters  
tomorrow, and if they're not available, or are ridiculously expensive,  
we've got a backup box of large prawns in the freezer.

This is followed by getting kicked out of the kitchen by spouse who  
has suddenly decided to make a cake, for no apparent reason. However,  
cake is a fairly compelling reason on its own, isn't it?

Tomorrow, we'll begin the New Year with our traditional fried fish,  
steamed sausages, poached chicken (purchased), blanched green  
vegetables (probably yu toy, which resembles a sweet, tender broccoli- 
rabe), stuffed black mushrooms (which could count as our shrimp dish,  
also, but I'll probably make a small dish of Drunken Shrimp in  
addition; they're just poached in the shell and marinated with soy,  
ginger, wine and a dash of vinegar, and served cold), plus soup, rice,  
and fruit.

And, apparently, strawberry-jam-filled three-layer cake. Oy.

Yes, it's a lot of food, but that's the idea; you spend New Year's Day  
setting the trend for the rest of the year, and plenty is a good  
thing. The next day we get to cook jai and eat leftovers, and, if  
there are enough people there to warrant it, we can cook more food.  
Not because we need to, but because it's a fun way to spend the rest  
of the year. Probably more on that later...

Happy New Year, all, just in case I don't check mail in the morning...


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